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East Palestine concerns linger over vinyl chloride exposure

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Nadia Ramlagan

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(Ohio News Connection) Residents of East Palestine, Ohio, say they continue to live with health problems, including rashes, nosebleeds and respiratory issues following last year's massive train derailment and chemical spill.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 177 tons of solid waste of solid waste and 68 million gallons of water have been transported out of East Palestine for disposal.

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Jess Conard, Appalachia director for the advocacy group Beyond Plastics, said vinyl chloride is a key ingredient in making PVC plastic. She argued the disaster highlighted the need to reduce production of industrial plastic and better regulate all stages of the plastic life cycle. She added residents still do not have the resources needed to stay safe.

"We are also in desperate need of residential indoor and outdoor air monitoring and air assessments for our homes," Conard contended. "There are residents within the past month that have reported detections of vinyl chloride outside of their home."

Norfolk Southern recently agreed to a $600 million settlement in an attempt to resolve a string of lawsuits involving thousands of people.

If it gets approval from all parties, it would resolve all class-action claims by people and businesses who were within a 20-mile radius of the derailment site, and personal injury claims within 10 miles. In a statement on the company's website, the company stressed the settlement does not constitute any admission of liability, wrongdoing or fault.

Conard pointed out the settlement will not prevent another train-related environmental disaster from happening. She noted the amount of money in the proposed settlement will hardly leave a dent in the pockets of a company whose profits topped $8 billion last year.

"If the court accepts this settlement, it sets the precedent that there is a corporate price tag for poisoning communities," Conard asserted. "The court must uphold justice for the people."

Congress has stalled on passage of legislation to boost regulations around inspections and fines for railroad companies violating safety standards. Earlier this month, the Biden administration passed a new rule requiring freight operators to have at least two people on board, in an attempt to increase safety.